It was spring 1969, I was eight and we were home in Dublin, on annual leave from India. I knew nothing about football but quickly realised I needed a favourite team and player for street cred. In desperation, I decided that the player featured on the back of the following week’s Tiger and Jag (the boys’ comic for those too young to remember) would fulfil both these prerequisites. The player was one Francis Lee and I thought I had heard of Manchester City. I hadn’t, it was the other shower as I soon discovered!
So this timid, slow, tall and very skinny left back became Francis Lee. I was too young to see the incongruity.
I am quite sure that my initial choice could and probably would have been reversed if City, much to my surprise, had not been playing in the FA Cup Final the following Saturday. My recollection of the time span may be faulty; if anyone collects T & Js from this era, can they confirm this? In a flush of enthusiasm, I decided I had better watch my team. I have no recollection of any sense of euphoria and suspect that it meant as much to me as when your raindrop wins the race down the window.
It was the best of times and the worst of times to be a City fan. I had just started in a boarding school, run by nuns, and very remote from the outside world. There was no MotD, Big Match or newspapers and radios were very thin on the ground. Miraculously, I found a nun with an interest in football and it was from her that I learned of City’s Cup Winners’ Cup and League Cup triumphs. Although at this stage I had rapidly evolved into an avid City fan, the joy was in limited measure as the victories seemed remote.
My relationship with football, and hence City, changed dramatically in 1972 when I acquired a radio. It was a Confirmation gift from my parents their original suggestion, a bible, was politely but firmly declined (I also formally confirmed my allegiance by choosing Francis as my saints name). From then on, every Saturday was spent with a radio perched on my left shoulder as I tuned to Radio 2 for all the latest scores. I was now a participating City fan as the joy and sorrow could be experienced live. More importantly, the mere act of me listening must in some small way influence City’s results, presumably for the better.
My relationship with City has, primarily, been a private affair. Football is not a passion in India. Worse still, Dublin must have the highest Utd:City fan ratio in the world; United are perceived as Catholic and have had a string of Irish greats. City, before the arrival of Niall, had only had Jimmy Conway and Tony Grealish; both past their prime. Apart from my brother, eight years younger and indoctrinated by me at an early age, I did not know another City fan until I was eighteen. I found another when I was twenty-nine. There is something almost Livingstone/Stanleyesque on such occasions. So, it has mainly been me, my brother and the radio.
The more alert readers, if they have persevered this far, will have noticed that there has been no mention of Maine Road. Apart from TV, I have never seen City play a competitive match! I have seen them three times in Ireland: vs. Drogheda when Mick McCarthy trapped everything on his chest; vs. Shamrock Rovers when Niall was majestic; and vs. Glasgow Celtic when one Gerry Creaney terrorised the City defence. I have every intention of making it to Maine Road, but don’t ask me when. After almost thirty years of waiting, the occasion has to fulfil a number of basic requirements:
- It has got to be a big match
- City have got to be in superb form, and
- Victory must be assured.
The alternative plan is that one of my kids begs me to take them to Maine Road and I do it for his sake. Then, if it is something less than perfection, it can be chalked up as yet another sacrifice made. Plan B is even remoter than Plan A as the older boy is only five, has no interest in football and has sufficient social skills to eventually choose the Reds to ensure peer acceptance.
So for the time being it remains me, my brother, the radio, MCIVTA (which is tremendous) and pulling on the blue jersey for the Tuesday evening 5 a side when this even slower, taller, skinnier left back becomes Georgi Kinkladze!
I have been going to Maine Road for near on 35 years now and feel sorry for the youngsters of today who are having to put up with watching the Blues attempt to play so called football.
My story goes something like this:
I was born in Crumpsall, Manchester some 40 years ago to a true Blue family, and was brought up in Moston which if you don’t know is just on the outskirts of Newton Heath (yes unfortunately Rag country or it was then, in fact my house in Faversham St used to be a stone’s throw from Newton Heath loco, S****’s former ground). My father, gran, grandad; uncles and aunts on my fathers side were all Blues through and through, but can’t say the same for my cousins or youngest brother Alan who supports Oldham. My mother’s family weren’t football fans but liked the horses (they should go to Maine Road now and watch some of the donkeys play).
My first visits to the academy are faded now but I started going in season 61/62 when I was 4/5 years old, I used to sit on the sloped wall in the Kippax, on my dad’s shoulders or in fact anywhere where a mere 3′ kid could see. I was often put on the crush rails in the old Platt Lane stand to gain a decent vantage point. I can still taste the Oxo which I used to drink at half time after taking cod liver oil and malt to keep me healthy or so my mother had said.
I used to wind my dad up something cronic by telling him I was going Red. As you can probably understand this tugged at his heart strings, I didn’t ever mean it but got noticed like this in a poor working class area. My cousin on the other hand who is 3 months younger than me was a Rg and most of the time wasn’t allowed in our house (slight exaggeration but you know what I mean). I didn’t particularly like him for being a Rag but it made me determined to stay Blue if he was an example of Rag. Rags were almost brought up not to go to the matches in those days, much the same now unless you live in London or anywhere but Manchester BG> but my cousin did make the occasional visit to that place in Salford. Anyway enough about the s***e.
Let’s talk Blue.
I vaguely remember the Tottenham on ice match because they used an orange ball and the touchlines were formed by shovels moving the snow/ice away from the pitch. I went to most of the matches when dad could afford it because by now there was also my younger brother Paul to consider; needless to say also Blue. I watched City avidly during the Mercer/Allison period and always remember big Mal in his fedora hats. I was at the games when he got banned from the touchline and remember him in the stands. I have seen City’s glory years and so much want them to return PG. City were the football force in Manchester and it was great going to school giving so called S***e fans s**t when we pasted them (what has happened since is history as they say). Somewhere around this time we lost something as a footballing force and I’m not sure what, but we are still suffering from it, even now despite being the only football team to come from Manchester.
I lived in Moston until I was 15 and moved to Chadderton (my brother Alan was only 6 at this time so went to school in Chaddy hence his allegiance to Oldham) when our old house was pulled down as part of the slum clearance in the early 70’s. This move was implanted in my mind because somehow all my cherished City programmes (most of them autographed) got lost. Very upsetting for me because of the achievements City had made at this time. The only consolation I have is my autograph book which has most of the players’ names in it from this era and my City pennant – FA Cup Final 1969. I still travelled to school at Moston Brook with my brother Paul. We used to go to Brian Kidd’s chippy for school dinners, which he had bought for his mum and often talked to Kiddo in there. I also travelled to the academy but was becoming independent of dad by now. My mate was a Rag and a year older than me, I used to go to Salford with him and he used to come to Maine Road with me, this continued for a couple of seasons until the late 70’s.
I lived in Chaddy for a few more years before leaving home and shacking up with the girlfriend (now wife) and lived in Lower Broughton next to the Cliff on Lower Broughton Road. I couldn’t get to many matches at this time since I had a young family of my own and couldn’t afford it but I moved to Macclesfield with my job in 85 where I live now with my wife and teenage kids.
Once I got settled I started going back to the Academy (house of horrors more apt now) with my own kids. They had no option but to be Blue, I think it makes them better balanced persons especially all the crap they get from S***e; Macc and now Stockport fans to name a few. We are also not that far removed from Vale fans who are also ribbing them at the moment. The kids give as good as they get after a fine upbringing even if I say so myself.
Between my dad, young nephews and my own children we hold 6 regular season tickets in the family stand and have been going ever since. I am saving for next season but don’t see how MCFC or FHL can justify a hike in the prices for playing lower grade football. I’m praying that we scrape it. I suppose one positive point is that one relegation slot has already gone to that ginger haired t**t Alan Ball so there are only 2 left.
For my nephews, children’s and MCFC’s sake somebody do something now which will make our club great again. I try to reassure them that we will be great again and if you say it quickly you can begin to believe it, be but on present performances I’m not sure. Living in Macclesfield is rather ironic at the moment because the thought of playing Macc next year is a real possibility.
I jested to the kids on that fateful day when the 2-2 draw against the scousers ensured relegation that it will be 2000 before we are playing in the Premiership again, but that statement is coming back to haunt me. What have we achieved since then ‘Rock All’.
What can we do apart from putting up with it and keeping on supporting the sleeping giant MCFC? I am a member of the Macclesfield Supporters’ Club as are my children, I would rather be dead than Red.
Is there any light at the end of this very dark tunnel we are in?
First printed in: MCIVTA Newsletter #373 on